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Showing posts from 2007

Coming Home...

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My flight leaves in 9 hours. I'm headed back to "civilisation"... make of that word what you will.

It's getting harder to hide my anticipation; spending time with my family is certainly rare enough as it is, but this year feels special somehow...

I feel like I say this every year, but it's been tough. We lost my Grandmother, I graduated (finally), I grew up... well, a little at least.

I know the new year has much in store, but that doesn't worry me. Actually, in many ways it is quite reassuring to be able to see what awaits around the corner, rather than spend time worrying about it.

Our target budget for this financial year has increased yet again, three times in three months for those of you keeping score at home, so I will be working while on my Christmas break. There's the website to retool and update, 3 grants to apply for, 2 urban projects to write proposals for, a new contact list of over 60 names to contact, 7 NGOs to approach for partnership plans, 2…

Yuletide Ramblings...

I've been in Bangladesh for nearly three months. Glad that I'm here, be glad when I go home.

I keep getting asked whether this experience has changed me, whether everything is as I expected, or whether I've been thrown off my feet...

Truthfully, it hasn't changed me at all... it has however given me renewed focus regarding where I want to be in life, what I want to do with that life, and to some extent where I want to lead that life.

I presented at a fundraising dinner held for Habitat a couple of days ago. During the evening I met a gentleman who had led quite an eclectic life; his interests were as diverse as they were numerous, and he had to some extent or another followed everypath he could. What struck me was his statement that at this point in his life, all the skills he had picked over time all seemed to fit in with what he was doing now, as if the paths he had taken weren't so random after all.

That's a reassuring thought.

It's been another busy coupl…

Small Victories...

The new website is up. Click here to check it out. Any feedback would be helpful; I know it's not great but since it's only my 2nd site I could sure use some ideas.

It's only been up for 1 day, and already I've had queries to both volunteer and sponsor houses.

It's been a productive day both in terms of securing funding and establishing contacts.

On a random note, the building owner here has bought 3 deer.

Deer.

As in Bambi.

We are in the middle of the city, surrounded by apartment building packed in close together, like branches in a rainforest fighting it out for space. Each square foot is so packed with people that you can almost see air move as it rushes to fill the gaps that miraculously appear between sweaty, congestion-stained bodies.

And yet there are 3 deer in the middle of all this.

3 deer. I keep saying but I still can't believe it...

More Ramblings...

It's another late night at the office... I've had 5 hours of sleep in the last 2 nights... not unusual for me, I suppose, though I wonder if that's something to be worried about...

We are all trying to wrap things up in the next couple of weeks before the office shuts down for Christmas... I can't believe it's that time of year again... feels great... so of course the workload has increased significantly, which came as quite a surprise because I had myself believing I couldn't work any harder if I wanted to...

I'm tired, I'm hungry, and I want to head home, so here's a quick update;

It's hot.

I'm surprised I have to explain why I'm fasting to everyone around me... Ramadan wasn't that long ago, how can people forget the concept of fasting so quickly?

The number of people in Dhaka has increased in the last 2 weeks. No-one has any idea why.

Elections are still planned for next year. As of today there are 0 candidates. That's right, I …

Eyes...

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One of my pictures is being used as our calendar for 2008. They will be up for sale through our website, which I am developing at the moment.

Here is a low-res version of the calendar. The picture has been posted here before, in better quality.

There is quite a buzz around the office today. The marketing campaign I created has completed its mini-trial, to much success. We are now preparing to implement it nationally. I have a meeting with a national celebrity on Sunday to finalise details. The official launch will be in 2 weeks, which will in turn be 2 days before I leave for Texas.

I've had quite a few comments about this picture, so it may be appropriate to give the background story. I met this man in Mirzaganj, in the District of Patuakhali. This area was severely damaged by Cyclone Sidr; houses blown over, crops destroyed, livestock killed, belongings swept away by the tidal surges. I had been trekking through villages while the other 2 members of my team were sitting and talking…

Musings...

I have my Nepal/Tibet trip booked.

It’s not until April 2008… keen, I know, but the prices are obviously better the earlier you book.

My uncle H will be joining me. It feels great to write that. We have been talking about trekking around Everest for as long as I can remember. I used to wonder if it would ever happen, if we were just dreaming, just hoping. Maybe we were. Yet here I am, 4 months away from my dream trip, wallet several pounds lighter but somehow more at peace.

We will be taking in many great sights, trekking to Everest Base Camp, heading through Lhasa, the Dalai Lama's former home, and visiting many monastaries, villages and lookouts along the way. In the immortal words of the Fresh Prince, "That's what I'm talking 'bout!".

It’s been a hard couple of weeks; it’s nice to have something like this to look forward to.

Speaking of looking forward, in 15 days I head back to Texas. I’m a proud Australian, I love my country, I love all its idiosyncras…

A Story of A Cyclone...

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Ramblings on hate...

There’s seemingly no end to disdain.

There’s seemingly no end to hate.

There’s seemingly no end to lack of understanding.

There’s no end to just how far people will go to avoid knowing. To avoid seeing. To avoid hearing. To avoid understanding.

It gives us comfort to hate. It gives us an outlet, an escape from what we have, what we face, what are forced to deal with every day.

It allows us the luxury to believe there is a simple solution to all that ails us. The problems are simple; it is the object of our hatred that is the cause, the root, the constant source of our pains and suffering.

To hate is to love; to love to hate. To truly hate requires passion. It requires an awareness. It requires focus and consistency. It is a falsehood to assume that hate comes from a lack of intelligence; true hate starts within great minds left unfulfilled, unchallenged, unenthused.

Hate is simple. Hate is powerful. Hate unites and conquers far quicker and far easier than anything else.

Most of all…

8,000 words...

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Hold its own...

I want to fix this.

I want to eradicate all poverty. I want to house every family.
I want to feed every village. I want to provide a safe environment for every child. I want to ensure safe drinking water is available for all.
It's very easy to be overwhelmed by the scope of the problems faced by this country. I consider myself a pragmatist as well as an idealist, and as such never entertained the possibility that my "wants" were at any time true goals to aspire to. Yet, even as a pragmatist, even drawing upon previous experience, even believing to have prepared myself for the inevitable frustrations that would arise, I still go through periods of unreasonableness, of frustrations I know to be irrelevant and yet cannot curb.
I find myself constantly, and quietly, questioning, doubting, criticising the international communitiy's plans and responses to Bangladesh's problems.
The reality is, of course, that I am a nobody in the world of International Development. My practica…

1,000 words...

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Tears...

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7,000 words...

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Saying Grace...

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I say Grace a little longer this morning.

My bowl of cereal and cup of coffee sit before me on my dining table. The fan above me rotates steadily, attached firmly to the roof. My roommates come and go from their rooms; our walls are still standing, our belongings are all in their place. I notice lights being turned on and off, water taps opened then closed, fresh, clean water being poured into new glasses. So I say Grace a little longer this morning.

I spoke to my mother and an uncle last night. My family is concerned about my welfare, but they needn’t be. I let them know how I am, what has happened this week, what I have planned for the coming week. They let me know how everyone is, what they are up to, whether there is anything to report. My family is safe, healthy, and relatively happy. So I say Grace a little longer this morning.

I have spent the last 3 days in the south of Bangladesh, in the Patuakhali District, as part of Habitat for Humanity’s Needs Assessment Team. From…

Frustrations...

On the one hand, there is too much bureaucracy; too many clearances required, too many departments to go through, not enough transparency.

On the other hand, there is no bureacracy; no one to authorise clearance, no departments to check information with, not enough transparency.

Then there is the technological issue.

I can't send emails to any contacts, or solicite any information or provide valuable details regarding our work because 4 of every 5 emails I send keep getting rejected by Spam detectors. It seems our internet host has allowed too much spyware and spamware to creep into their servers, essentially blacklisting us from almost all servers around the world. It's an embarresment when even hotmail rejects an official email you sent...

More and more money keeps getting sent to Bangladesh, but where is it all going? I see the press releases with large figures on them, but am struggling to see where it ends up... of course the U.N. gets the lion's share, and rightly so,…

Struggling...

I'm feeling the weight of the work, and I haven't even been out to the field yet...

Daily situation reports are available here.

Resources...

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I seem to have no energy these days. It's early in the afternoon, the day after our Donor Recognition Event. I am planning the launch of our global marketing campaign, organising a monitoring and evaluation trip to the areas most affected by the cyclone, preparing for tomorrow's trip to a building site where a group of Global Volunteers from Abu Dhabi is beginning their week-long tour of duty, all while organising a concert, identifying potential donors, evaluating our programs and their effectiveness, and coming up with strategies to improve our overall efficiency in program delivery and reporting.

And today is a quiet day.

I had my first Bangla class last night. Amar Nam Pierre. My name is Pierre. Now that's capacity building.

I have steadily come to the conclusion that the 40,000 NGOs in this country need to be culled; I acknowledge that there are monumental and numerous crises affecting this country, however after decades of interference and intervention, it is quite appa…

The best laid plans...

I had planned to sit and write about my trip to Sonargoan.

I had planned to describe playing cricket with 30 or so local children in the middle of the solitary street running through Pan City.

I had planned to depict the scenery, the smells, the trip, the weather, the experiences… but today none of that seems to matter.

Bangladesh was hit by a cyclone yesterday. The death toll is at 2000, with significantly more than that missing.

The office is in crises mode. I am hosting our Donor Recognition Ceremony this afternoon, so details need to be finalized… however we are also coordinating with other agencies to respond to this latest disaster.

The only good news is that early reports indicate our houses have withstood the cyclone.

It's going to be a long week...

1 Thousand Words...

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This photo used with permission from Habitat for Humanity Bangladesh.

3 Thousand Words...

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Little things...

I'm worn out.

It's the end of another working day, and I can't wait to get home and crash on my couch.

I had a big loss today, affecting 100 families... but there's no time for regrets, I have to work harder and find a way to get a win back for this program.

My workload is really hectic. This is the first job I have ever had where there is no downtime, at least none that I can see.

Having said that, I don't feel like I'm being overworked. In fact I have just volunteered to work at an orphanage during the weekends I won't be travelling. It is a medium-sized orphanage, with about 200 children, just north of Dhaka. The manageing director lives right above me, and is good friends with my CEO. This is a very small expat community...

A wonderful little boy walked home with me yesterday. He barely came up to my waist, was thin as a rail, but his smile was radiant. I handed him my basketball, and he just dribbled, well, attempted to dribble, next to me all the wa…

Changes...

My apologies for continually changing the layout of my blog. I am quite new to this thing and am frustrated by my inability to create a custom layout.

My eye is much better, however at the gym last night I noticed it is still drooping a little... I am assured that too will pass, as it is still a little swollen, however I can't help but be concerned.

I had a beautiful walk last night from my house to the gym and back. The streets are always crowded, but at night there seems to be little more ease to people's movements; I assume the cooler air tempers one's mood somewhat.

The thickness of the smog is much more evident at night, when the bright lights of cars show up the clouds that drift through the city streets. In the daytime, the brightness of the sun all but forces you to keep your eyes lowered at all times.

I realise I haven't updated the pictures for a few days. I will attempt to take some decent shots of the city at night, despite my basic camera.

Bideshis...

Bideshis. Foreigners. From Dhaka to Dallas, Sydney to San Antonio, I can't remember the last time being a "foreigner" was a good thing...

Can we have a round of applause for the shambles in Chad at the moment? Thank you to everyone who made such a mess of things, I am so pleased that there is now even more scepticism at the work of NGOs in the world.

So my rickshaw driver has deserted me, taking my monthly payment and disappearing after only a week and a half. There is some background to this story, of course.

I first used this driver quite randomly, after doing some grocery shopping. He offered to be my driver quite on his own, saying he would be at my disposal if I paid him 2000 taka a month. I tried to negotiate him down to 1000, seeing as how my daily rickshaw needs amount to about 700 taka a month anyway, however it was quite half-hearted. It's hard to negotiate a price when you start thinking of the problems rickshaw drivers face, and the usually obscenely …

2 thousand words...

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Recovering...

I'm at work today after a 4 day break, 2 hospital visits, 6 different types of medication and several very nervous people anxiously awaiting news...

I scratched my cornea several days ago. Not quite sure how, however the prevailing theory is that some dirt or dust was trapped between my contacts and my eye, then caught on the upper part of my right cornea.

The pain was almost intolerable.

My concern at the time was my location; I was in a training facility outside of the city, with no medical centre close by.

My supervisor was luckily headed back to the city the next day, so we took the staff bus and made a detour at the hospital several other AYADs had frequented. The problem was diagnosed, medication was prescribed, and I was sent to "sleep it off".

4 days later, I'm back. My eye is still a bit red, and my eyelid has swollen, but the tear has healed, and I am assure in 7 days the remaining medication will bring the swelling down and return my eye to normal.

Not being abl…

Barriers and complications...

There are no end of barriers to implementing a development program successfully.

Consider this example; in every developing country in the world, urban migration and lack of adequate, decent housing go hand in hand. Slums rise quickly, even efficiently. Filled to the brim with both the poorest of the poor, as well as those seemingly “middle-class”, if there is such a thing in developing nations, caught in the poverty cycle, slums are one of the worst conditions in which humans can live. Stomach viruses, so easily curable, kill in astonishing numbers. Disease finds a stranglehold ruthlessly in these areas, taking lives long before a response can be made, Poorly constructed, slum housing is decimated at the slightest hint of flooding, only to return, out of necessity, once the waters recede.

Is this, however, a situation that can, or even needs to be, fixed?

Here are some of the barriers. Replace some slum dwellings with housing. Nothing fancy, at most 20 feet by 12 feet, enough to …

Maths...

Here’s some math.

I make about $22AUD here per day. That’s net, not gross. After 25 years I have finally realized I have other financial responsibilities. Finally.

Of that $22, I need to put aside almost $7 for rent. I also pay $1 a day for my rickshaw driver. That leaves me with $14 per day. Of course food, household expenses, cleaning products, telephone credit and the odd taxi or CNG (motor-powered rickshaw) to other suburbs takes out about $8 per day. Most of that is the cost of groceries. That leaves me with $6 per day to spend or save.

Doesn’t seem like much at all… however after all my expenses, I’m still making 300% more than the average Bangladeshi… which is a gross misrepresentation, because the “average” Bangladeshi here is on $1 or less a day, meaning I’m over 600% better off financially…

It doesn’t end there. My roommates and I have completely blown our startup budget getting everything from fans to furniture. Not to mention paying bond for our apartment, which equa…

Cravings...

A whopper or Rudy-Burger.
Fajitas.
Corona.
I would say ice-cream, but they have Movenpick, Baskin-Robbins and Anderson’s here.
A Jim’s breakfast, with pancakes, eggs and bacon.
Sugar free Red-Bull. Heck I’d even take regular red bull.
Gatorade.
Papa John’s pepperoni pizza. They have a “Dominous” (no misspelling), which is good.
Gyros and shawermas.

Randomness...

The absurdities just keep on piling up.

I’m in a village outside Dhaka, at a staff training week, surrounded by countryside and smaller villages and life essentially as it has been for generations. The grass is green, the vegetation still lush, there is water pretty much everywhere. Kids run around barefoot, as do most adults actually, and people take the time to just hang around since there isn’t all that much to do. We are away from the sweatshops, sorry, “clothing factories”, and also some way from the brickyards. There are goats and sheep and dogs walking around, women sweeping the street with their jaroo and rickshaw drivers defying gravity by sleeping on their bikes, butts on the seat, head back on the chair, and their feet in the air. The miniscule local birds are ever-present, as are the relentless mosquitos (what a time to forget the anti-malaria pills…). The geckos sing earnestly all night, the only noise to be heard until the crows start up in the morning. A stark con…

Quotes...

“People accustomed to hard lives, disappointment, and betrayal by institutions may be more likely to vote with their feet than to seek changes that could satisfy them.”
- Quote from a report on housing in developing countries.

Started reading "Audacity of Hope", Obama's book:

“Like most Americans, I find it hard to shake the feeling these days that or democracy has gone seriously awry.

What’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem.”

By the river...

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Pictures thanks to my room-mate Jeremy.


Rickshaws and Red Bull...

I now have a Rickshaw-wallah of my own... my own personal rickshaw driver to get me to work and bring me home, to take me sight seeing around town, to ferry me back and forth wherever I like at whatever time of the day or night I like. And it's only costing me a small fortune. Compared to what I usually pay rickshaw-wallahs, not compared to what I earn back home, of course...

The next step is to buy a rickshaw or two. Read the following for a better understanding of the magnitutide of the contribution rickshaws have to the economy; "Pulling Rickshaws Out of Poverty".

On another note, I have been in this country for 31 days. That equates to 31 days without Red Bull... painful, veeeery painful...

4 Thousand Words...

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1 month in... a brief recap...

Today is the 22nd of October... I left Australia exactly 1 month ago...

The night before I left was a mad rush of activity. Final checklists were made and ticked off, financial affairs were put in order, my precious books, cds, electronics and shoes (in no particular order) were dusted and covered. I couldn't help but wonder if I was a little crazy for leaving everything behind...

Once sufficiently satisfied that I had in fact packed everything I needed (sterile needles, an assortment of medecine, water purifying tablets, a torch, my Glaciers shorts...) I put on my finest "Big-time" (thank you Krissan) outfit, which of course involved the all-white Avirex jacket, and headed down south to support LockDown one last time...

What a great night... the boys didn't make the finals, but the routine, and the crowd reaction, was absolutely incredible. It was a source of great pride to see how far the crew had come.

I returned home quite early, however sleep escaped me. I rare…

Ramblings...

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Some people just switch off when things get serious... it's a frustrating fact...
Yes it IS so much easier to just act as if you're proactive and yes it IS so much easier to discuss the topic in broad terms rather than commit to details...

It is getting quite difficult at work. We are trying frantically to secure some funding. I might have to dig out my aces sooner than I had hoped.
On another note, yesterday was the Durgha Pooja, a Hindi festival. We had a fantastic afternoon and evening in Old Dhaka, on the river, joining in the celebrations.



Streets...

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My Street.


My office is on this street, on the right hand side, behind the rickshaw.


The river, next to my office.

A Moment...

Quick memory; 2nd week in Dhaka, stuck in heavy traffic, it's hot, humid and polluted... I hear thumping bass... i look around, can't spot where it's coming from... couple minutes later, I hear it again... a car pulls up next to our van... two young guys, windows down, system up... bumping "Pump It Up" by Joe Budden... of all the songs in the world...

3 Thousand Words...

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